We can all agree that today’s generation of kids will grow up in a vastly different environment than that of previous generations. As a 90’s kid, my parents had a few steadfast rules in our household: no cell phone until we were 16 years old, and no cable TV (Monday night 7th Heaven viewing was pretty much the only show we tuned into all week). Additionally, the only access to a screen during school was to play Oregon Trail during recess, or the occasional Bill Nye viewing in science class. Fast forward just a few years and the landscape for children and technology has totally changed, especially when it comes to education. ‘Screen time’ regulation is now a commonality in most households, and remote learning formats resulting from the COVID pandemic will have a lasting impact on children in this generation. Within these shifting boundaries of early education, there are a few digital applications trends that are shaping the way children learn in virtual settings:
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) applications are exposing young children to STEM learning opportunities, in a more hands on setting through a digital application. STEM apps are teaching kids to expand their horizons and experiment through activities and games which are specifically geared to make learning fun. One app, Hopscotch: Coding for kids, is giving our younger generations the platform to learn the basics of coding through simple and intuitive building blocks. With these building blocks mastered, users can also create their own games and animations, giving kids the ability to be creative. Another application, The Robot Factory by Tinybop, allows kids to build customized robots in a virtual factory. Children can experiment and design their own robots by mixing and matching different Robot parts within the application. (Source: https://www.educationalappstore.com/best-apps/stem-apps-for-kids)
Virtual reality (VR) applications are another major trend, providing a super unique learning opportunity for children today. Through my research, I learned that the development of VR applications for kids is especially challenging, as creators must consider which topics and technical aspects are appropriate for the developing brains of children. As such, it often takes additional development time and testing to get such applications approved for distribution, but once complete, VR applications can provide a super unique learning opportunity. For example, InMind VR, sends children into their brain to see how it all works. The player will find and destroy bad neurons using a laser, all while learning about the different functions of the various parts of the brain. In version 2 of the application, the user is taken on a virtual journey with one character through their life, all whilst making decisions along the way. Titans of Space is another virtual reality application letting students learn about the innerworkings of the solar system. A three-dimensional view of the solar system allows students to decipher the size of earth in comparison to the other planets, and learn about orbital space and stars. (Source:
Self-regulation applications are another major tech trend for early education applications. For those unfamiliar, self-regulation is the ability for young children to understand and manage behaviors and reactions to feelings from external stimulus. Mental health has become a topic of increasing importance in recent years, and the awareness of this issue has led to the development of many applications geared towards children. Mightier, is a digital application for kids which marries video games and biofeedback to help children learn to balance their emotions. The user wears a heart monitor while playing a videogame, and as the game becomes more challenging and their heartrate begins to elevate, the game pauses so that the player can breathe deeply and calm down before resuming the game. This technique teaches kids how to control their body and overcome stressful situations. Emotional ABCs, is another application teaching kids aged 4-11 how to better cope with their emotions using curriculum based videos and games. The modules provide kids with techniques to handle their frustrations and problem solve among stressful situations. (Source: https://www.kidsintransitiontoschool.org/cool-apps-for-practicing-self-regulation-skills/)
While these applications provide today’s generation of youth with unique learning opportunities, there is a question of the long-term effects of technology usage from such a young age. Are these applications really giving young kids a leg up, or is early introduction to technology doing more harm than good?
In my opinion (through much research!)… it depends. Yes, there are tons of benefits of early education learning applications as noted above. But with these benefits come some pitfalls for parents & educators to avoid when introducing these digital tools as a means of education for younger students:
- Focus young students on applications that require real mental effort and participation, as these applications tend to provide more learning opportunities for kids. Alternatively, apps with many distracting elements that require lots of swiping / tapping, can be confusing and typically don’t provide as many learning opportunities for kids.
- Digital application learning should be done with an adult! Don’t assume that applications should be completed as a solo activity; with both digital and adult interaction, a child can see how an adult might approach a problem, or ask for help when stuck.
- As most things in life are, digital learning applications are best used in moderation. In other words, kids should have a variety of avenues from which to learn, and I think that learning applications should be used to supplement more traditional learning styles rather than to replace them. Furthermore, experts recommend limiting the use of these learning applications to earlier in the day, as the lighting of these apps can negatively impact kids sleeping habits.
All in all, I think early education digital applications will continue to evolve and have a lasting impact on the way kids learn. My hope is that parents & educators strive to fully understand the long-term effects on children development and use these apps as supplemental learning opportunities for children. What are your expectations for early education for the next generation, and how will digital applications impact this?